I knew better than to argue or waste time
asking questions. I sprinted back for the car, fear churning in my stomach.
Nothing like this had happened before. Cooper had said that the ritual couldn't
be interrupted, no matter what.
I got to the Lincoln, ran around to the
driver's side and and dove into the seat. Smoky was whining on the front seat,
his paws pressed against the window. Before I could get the door closed, he'd
jumped over me and was running towards his master.
Cooper started to scream. His voice sounded
like a band saw blade grinding against a rusty iron post.
Should you run away like this? I cranked the key in the ignition and slammed the car into drive. Don't
think. Just do it. Cooper knows this stuff way better than you do.
The storm was gathering with alarming speed.
Thunder rumbled. In the rearview mirror, I saw the wind whipping a dust devil around Cooper's rigid form. The sound of the gale was drowning out his scream.
I hit the accelerator just as a massive bolt
of lightning shot down from the sky.
The earth around Cooper exploded. A
shockwave whipped across the park, and I was thrown forward into the steering
wheel as the back of the Lincoln jerked off the ground.
The car tilted, and the gale blasted into
the Lincoln's passenger side, lifting it and knocking it over onto the driver's
side. I fell hard against the window, helpless as the car spun like a carnival ride across the grass. My clothes and the ferret flew off the dashboard. He scrabbled for purchase on my sweaty skin to keep from being hung on his
The car slammed into a steel-framed picnic
bench bolted to a concrete slab beside the goldfish pond and stopped.
I untangled myself from the steering wheel
and set the frightened ferret on top of the passenger side headrest. I grabbed
my scattered clothes and got dressed as quickly as I could. The ferret had left
a dozen pinprick scratches on my side and hip. Once I was no longer in danger
of being arrested for public indecency, I unrolled the passenger side window
and stuck my head out to see how Cooper was doing, hoping against hope this
would turn out to be just be another one of those funny little
Babbling-gone-wacky incidents where he'd be standing there amidst smoke and
debris with singed hair and a sheepish oops-did-it-again look on his face.
No such luck. There was a steaming crater
the size of a child's wading pool where he'd been. I couldn't tell how deep it
was, but the charred sides reflected a bright red glow, as if from live coals
"Cooper! Cooper, where are you?" I
shouted, feeling sick bile rise in my throat.
Smoky lay near the crater, his flanks
heaving as he gasped for breath. His body looked strangely bloated.
I bent down to make sure the ferret's lead
was still secured to the stick shift. "You stay in here," I told him,
my voice shaky, not certain if he understood. "I'll come get you when I'm
sure it's safe."
I pulled myself up through the window and
slid down the curved door, landing lightly on the grass. Where was Cooper? Had
he been knocked unconscious and thrown into the trees? Or was the crater all
that was left?
No, no, no. He couldn't be dead. He just couldn't.
"Smoky?" I called. "Smoky,
The terrier was trying to get to his feet,
dragging his hindquarters as if he'd broken his back. Bloody foam flecked his
muzzle. He saw me and started to howl.
Oh, Jesus, poor thing, I
The crater smelled like a gangrenous wound,
like bad magic, and I was getting the same stink off Smoky.
I stepped closer to the crater. And then it
hit me: I was looking at an intradimensional portal. I couldn't have been more
stunned if I'd put a cake in the oven, left it to cook, smelled smoke, and
opened the oven to discover the cake had transformed into an angry firedrake.
Actually, the cake-to-firedrake I could have explained away as a prank from the
Warlock, but this? This was
off-the-chart bad and unexpected. How in the name of cold sweat and stomach
cramps had we created an intradimensional portal from a simple
After a couple of beats, my brain shifted
out of shock and into more practical questions: where did the portal go? I had
no clue, but by the look of it, it sure wasn't a beachside resort. Had Cooper
been pulled inside? It seemed likely. I couldn't see any trace of him nearby.
If he'd been blown apart in the explosion, there'd still be blood or -- I
swallowed sickly against the thought -- scattered bits of his flesh.
My first instinct was to call Mother Karen
and get her to send help, but I realized I couldn't just stand there and do
nothing while I waited for the cavalry.
God only knew what might come through. Might come through at any moment.
I realized I had to do my best to get that sucker closed, and fast.